With Alcohol Awareness Week under way, one Belfast dad tells Karen Ireland how his drinking cost him his wife, family and home, leaving him suicidal.
Michael Bailey (40), lives in Belfast. He has three children aged 13, nine and three. He says:
That’s what happened to me when alcohol took over my life.
I was a social drinker from the age of 17, but in my 20s I started to drink more at home than when I went out. I would drink about eight to 10 cans of beer a night.
My marriage started to suffer because of my drinking. I felt useless and moved out of the family home.
Getting divorced hit me hard and I began to drink even more to hide my feelings.
By this stage I was still working, but I was hiding my drinking. Then, when I lost my driving licence again for drink driving, everything went downhill.
I lost my job and my home, but even then I still didn’t want to wise up and admit what was going on. I would drink all day – never for the taste, just for the effect.
By this stage I was drinking spirits and had started taking drugs as well. I drank in the morning to wake myself up and to get out – anything I did, I had to have a drink first.
With no home, I would break into my mum’s house and stay there as she spent a lot of time living in Portugal.
Around this time my father died and this was an excuse for me to drink more. I didn’t recognise the person I was becoming; stealing money from friends and family to buy drink.
I was breaking into houses to have somewhere to sleep and just drinking and using (drugs) all day. Then I would get into trouble with the police and was arrested several times. I wasn’t really a criminal – just a nuisance to them. I would get court dates – but I wouldn’t turn up, as I was always drunk. After a drunken fight I ended up with a three-year suspended sentence on an assault charge. As well as dealing with the alcoholism, I was deeply depressed. I started to think that life would be better off without me and I attempted to take my own life three times.
I always took pills and alcohol and looking back now it was probably a cry for help.
Eventually I went to rehab in St Consilio in Newry for a 12-week residential course. However, I didn’t finish the programme as I was caught with substances in my blood and urine.
Rock bottom came when I finally accepted things in my own head and realised how low my life had sunk – what I had become and what I had lost.
I realised I had lost all dignity. I had no personal hygiene. Everything about my lifestyle was disgusting. It had to stop – for me.
I remember thinking to myself “what sort of a man has to have a drink of vodka before getting out of bed in the morning?”
After this realisation I went on a three-month programme in Kildare and it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.
Then I found Addiction NI – it was a lifeline and my saving grace. There were people there just like me who had been through something similar or worse and had got their life back together. I had hope for the first time in four years.
That was two years ago, and I haven’t had a drink since. The best thing for me was one-to-one counselling. It gave me a safe place to talk, admit to my problems and start dealing with them.
One of the hardest things for an addict is coming out of rehab and finding there is no support on the other side. There needs to be more support after treatment.
Addiction NI has been fantastic and now I volunteer with them. Hopefully I can help anyone else overcome addiction.
At my lowest point I needed to re-learn how to live; things like going shopping for food, getting housing advice and how to make new friends. I was so vulnerable and they helped me navigate my way back. I had to learn how to live without drink and drugs.
Life is now good.
I am reconciled with my family and spend time with them now. I also see my children – who are now 13, nine and three – as often as possible. They are the reason I stay sober every day now.
I have a small apartment and not much in the way of material goods, but for the first time in a long time I can sleep in my own bed at night without worrying. I have peace of mind, which is worth its weight in gold.”